“An inch ahead, total darkness.”

Zen saying

“I turned to speak to God

About the world’s despair;

But to make matters worse

I found God wasn’t there.”

Robert Frost


Indulge me (once again) by considering this post (originally posted on www.thejewishatheist.com on Dec. 12, 2011) to be cathartic and therapeutic.  A little journaling, as the New Agers say.

Today my mother told me that she’s about to attend the funeral of Jimmy (ne Jay Milton) Heimlich.  He’s at least 70, so you’d think, “not a bad lifespan.”

A life not to be envied

But what a life.  His family lived three blocks from us in my home town.  I was friendly with his sisters.  His parents were mom-and-pop Jewish retail merchants (children’s clothing).  Until I knew better, I thought the Heimlich Maneuver referred to the habit of Jimmy’s Dad, Leonard, of becoming so embroiled in a discussion that he’d turn around to face you to make his point – while driving.  It made my father nervous.

According to my Mother, decades ago, on the very day Dad pointed out the hill on North High Street, just north of town, where he and his friends would go sledding as kids…on that very day, she learned that Jimmy, whom I remember also as a tall young man, standing up to football/wrestling jock Bob Darlington (probably now an insurance salesman) on a school bus, had had a disastrous toboggan accident on that very hill.   He rolled his daughter off the sled, but why he didn’t move quickly enough and roll off himself remains a mystery.

Suffering, paralysis, death

He didn’t roll off, hit a tree, and spent decades in a wheel chair, with declining health and premature death now inevitable.  I’m amazed he lasted as long as he did. All those years I played tennis, dated, loved, got married, relocated, got remarried, played more tennis, traveled, drove to and from various jobs, etc., etc…all those years, Jimmy was in that chair, his life severely limited, his daily health more and more of a challenge each year. 

One day, you’re strong and healthy; the next, your life’s nearly over.  And I mean you.  And me.  Somebody has to die in car crashes, as George Carlin might say…why not you?   See Buddhist saying above.  It’s sad that I have to think about Jimmy in order to appreciate what I have.  But at least I appreciate. 

Whose plan?

All he wanted was to go sledding with his daughter.  But shall we say that God had other plans?  That Jimmy’s life was a Job-level testing, another bet with Satan?  I really doubt that Jimmy got much comfort from God and religion (I would have heard about it). 

Lousy plan

The best we can say about God’s plan is that it stinks.  What with all the famine, war, disaster, disease, misery, and death, it’s more like the work, according to Carlin, of “an office temp with a bad attitude.”

This post will be continued.  I’ll try to find out what the rabbi said at the funeral.  (BTW, it’s at the same synagogue where Mom wants to be sent off; I will help accommodate her wishes, but I will not participate in this primitive rite, this “believability experiment,” as I have to come to call religious services.)

The best the rabbi can do in this situation is shut the fuck up.  Chances are that if enough people go tobogganing, some will be paralyzed.  I’m sorry for them all, but I’m especially sorry that one of them had to be Jimmy Heimlich.

ADDENDUM: Even in that wheelchair, he managed to put together an impressive life of community service and charitable work.  The 300 people at his funeral attested to that.  The rabbi’s remarks were brief and appropriate.  Mother is wrong: health is NOT the most important thing in life.  It’s what you do with the health you have.

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